The past few years have taken a steady toll of those whom many older Cygnets fondly remember as the ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ generation. Named after the TV sitcom of the same name, these aged swans would regularly gather at the boathouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays to engage in some light training followed by a lengthy period of contemplation and reflection in the Cygnet bar. One of their number was Graham ‘Barney’ Frith who died on Tuesday, 4th September 2018, following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease. He was 81.
Barney Frith joined Cygnet in 1961 and rowed with the likes of Mike Arnold-Gilliat, Derek Bush, Colin Dominy, John Ellis, John Hildrey and Len Huggett to name but a few. Although the sixties were not an era of huge success for Cygnet, Barney nevertheless played his part in securing such coveted trophies as the Twickenham Cup for the third time since the war, in 1962. Derek Bush recalls rowing with him in the club regatta and Len Huggett liked to relate the story of how Barney cost them a race at Kingston Regatta because he spent more time trying to swipe a swan than ‘getting on with the race’.
Blessed with a head for numbers, Barney found his professional niche in the National Audit Office and apparently displayed a keen mathematical interest in gambling. Such attributes would later be turned to good effect playing the financial markets in retirement and picking potential winners for the Last of the Summer Wine horse racing syndicate.
Barney never allowed rowing to interfere with his social life. Contemporary accounts describe him as a ‘young blade’ for whom assignations with the fairer sex always held more attraction than ‘jugging’ it up with his crew mates after an outing. In the fullness of time, Barney met Miss Right – Brenda – and they married in the late-1960s. Rather than send a telegram, his crew mates penned an ‘Ode to A Young Swan’, which lamented the fact that Barney had hung up his blade and traded his carefree days at Cygnet for a life of domestic bliss.
Soon afterwards, the newly-weds moved away and started a family and Barney retired from active rowing. It would be some years before he resurfaced at the boathouse, having escaped the clutches of the National Audit Office, courtesy of an early retirement scheme. However, no sooner had he become a paid-up member of the Last of the Summer Wine set than he fell into the clutches of club chairman Mike Arnold-Gilliat, who dragooned him into the post of club treasurer.
Despite his accounting background, Barney was not a natural treasurer; he agonized over any expenditure, wrote a long committee paper outlining a doom scenario for club finances and concluded that the club should stop buying boats until further notice. It was not a match made in heaven and he and the post of treasurer were soon parted, much to the relief of all concerned. Doom mongering tended to be Barney’s stock-in-trade and he would later emerge as a strident opponent of a proposed merger with BBLRC, condemning it as a financial accident waiting to happen.
Shorn of his official duties, Barney was free to devote himself to managing his share portfolio, honing his skills at bridge – he played a mean hand by all accounts – and entering into the full extra curricula activities of the Last of the Summer Wine set. One high spot he always enjoyed was the annual President’s lunch at Henley Royal Regatta. The Friths had lived in Henley-on-Thames for a good deal of their married life and were well known on the bridge circuit, which continued to draw them back long after they had moved to Gerrards Cross in the early 1980s.
Barney was nothing if not a creature of habit. John Hildrey recalls that on their regular lunch time visits to the William Webb Ellis in Twickenham, Barney always brought a cushion (he suffered from a bad back) and always ordered ham, egg and chips. Many will remember Barney as a heavy smoker, but he rarely imbibed to the same extent as some of his less inhibited compatriots, preferring not to put his driving license at risk. This marked him out as an obvious taxi driver, a task he always performed with dignity and aplomb, decanting the likes of Mike AG and Len Huggett home to their respective front doors at the end of a ‘heavy’ day.
In later life, Barney fretted that most of his closer associates were older than him, presaging a lonely old age. In reality, the Cygnet social safety net was always close at hand and many older members will lament his passing. Barney’s wife, Brenda, predeceased him by some years; he is survived by a married daughter, Helen, to whom the Club sends its sincere condolences.